The recent introduction of the smoking ban to UK venues has had at least one unexpected influence on band/audience dynamics: five minutes before Music Roll Exchange are due to go on stage at Kentish Town’s Bull & Gate, everyone who is meant to be inside the venue – including the band – are standing on the pavement together, sharing fags and banter.
It gives the evening a wonderfully relaxed start, a chance to mix, to say hello to friends and acquaintances from previous gigs. A chance to say hello to the band if you know them even vaguely and to be introduced to their girlfriends, former manager, followers and friends. It’s a bit like Myspace, only in real life and with guilt-free nicotine fumes.
Eventually, of course, the entourage has to head inside but, by the time we do, the B&G’s intimate back room seems deceptively spacious and clean, rather than lost in so much smoke that you can barely see the band through it. Although lead singer Al Louis does complain about not being able to have a fag on stage as soon as he hits the boards, there’s a creeping realisation that actually this is a bit more pleasant than things used to be. Really.
But on to the music. For those of you yet to discover the charms of Music Roll Exchange – and musicOMH first did at Glastonbudget, shivering in the rain near the New Bands Stage because it was closer to the warm, press room than the Tribute Bands stage – they are a poppier, slightly more polished version of the many traditional, garagey guitar bands who emerged in the turn of the century wake of The Strokes and The Libertines.
Currently unsigned, despite coming recommended by everyone from The Bluetones (whose style they’re not a million miles away from) to Richard Branson, for whom they’ve played a private party, they’re growing their fanbase slowly and steadily via word of mouth, festival performances and the free CDs they give away at concerts such as today’s – a three track disc containing Get Over It, which is probably their catchiest track, plus Panic Attack and Kiss Me, neither of which are far behind.
All three of these are on the set list tonight, as well as on their Myspace page, where you’ll also find another of tonight’s offerings, Broken Sea, and Silver Plated, which accompanied it on the band’s first single last year. Lush guitars, catchy hooks and a style that straddles indie sensibilities and radio friendly soft rock perfectly all combine to offer something that should be making them much bigger than they are.
For those of you who’ve ever been completely immersed in the London indie scene, there are many traits they share with those great lost and under-rated heroes of pop Linus, not least a conviction in doing what they want to do, their way. For similarities with bands you might actually have heard of, look to Dirty Pretty Things without the bitterness or Pink Floyd with a good guitar solo editor. It’s easy to hear echoes of Green Day in their combination of punkish-pop, too. Broken Sea’s Eastern rhythms under the smooth vocals are especially worth checking out.
Tonight they start with Underdogs, a song you might not have come across before, followed by Kiss Me, Silver Plated, Runaway, In My Car, Get Over It, Down Below Hell and Panic Attack. It’s a relatively short set but that’s the way to keep it sweet, and on a warm night in Kentish Town, with the smoking ban in place, it gives the audience time to get out onto the street again when it’s all over, to mix with the crowd and to network in a way that, ironically, the artificial world of the internet has both enabled and encouraged.
In 2007, the live music scene is as strong and vibrant as ever because of bands like Music Roll Exchange. You saw them first at a festival that was small enough for you to approach them afterwards, you used the internet to download their tracks and find out where they were playing next and when you turned up, they gave you free CDs they’d burned themselves and talked to you on the pavement because that was the only place anyone’s allowed to smoke anymore. If this is the future of music then boy, does it smell good.